The Marxist philosopher Theodor Adorno once quipped that much of his work was written without practical applications in mind, and that the constant demand for immediate practical relevance felt like being asked by occupied forces to present one’s papers. While hyperbolic, the frustration is real among many progressive activists and intellectuals, and also points to a real problem within political engagement, with how the need to act right now sometimes can cloud judgment. Against this grain, some occasionally step up in encouraging us to step back and collect ourselves and our thoughts. One such writer is the topic of this episode, Marcello Tari, whose recent book There Is No Unhappy Revolution: The Communism of Destitution (Common Notions, 2021) recently became the first of his translated into English.
Written from and for a scattered and confused left, the book has a style resembling the more esoteric and messianic figures in the lefts history, most notably Walter Benjamin, who appears throughout the books footnotes. In a series of chapters that wander through a number of disparate topics, it slowly develops a few key themes around late capitalism, violence, oppression, revolution and temporality, although a simple definition or analysis of any one of these elements in isolation never comes; instead they are developed and intertwined in various ways as a way of understanding the social and psychological knots we’re caught in. Easy fixes don’t come easy here either; instead Tari’s goal is in many ways to cultivate our sensitivity to our current political predicament, to speak to comrades in a way that generates a productive confusion that might help us think more critically about what’s needed.
In the discussion that follows, Tari was unable to join us, but I was instead joined by two artists, Ayreen and Rene, who have known Tari for some time and proved careful and patient guides through the text. My typical formula for working through texts with guests broke down here; with every question I asked if they could define a term, or explain a passage, and every time they would take various detours through topics and themes I hadn’t expected, only to eventually come back to my initial question, but with a newfound angle into it I hadn’t picked up on during my own reading of the book. As a result, I left the conversation feeling like I was finally able to read the book, and I appreciate their willingness to sit with me on it. This book was challenging to read, and is even more challenging to describe, but it should be of interest to anyone engaged in contemporary political struggle.
Tari is a self-described ‘barefoot’ researcher of contemporary political movements and struggles, and has published works in both French and Italian. He is also the translator of The Invisible Committee’s The Coming Insurrection.